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Chris Murray, Managing Director of DS Smith UK & Ireland, shares his predictions for the future of the packaging industry in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic will forge permanent new trends in the packaging industry; this is something that is reflected from what we see around us, but also based on research conducted since the beginning of the pandemic. While these trends will be multi-faceted, the most seismic changes in packaging will be in e-commerce, hygiene, and sustainability – as consumer attitudes continue to shift on a mass scale never seen before.


The Covid-19 pandemic propelled the growth of e-commerce and research shows that many of the online shopping habits British consumers adopted are here to stay – in fact, 83% of Brits plan to continue to shop online at the same level or more after the pandemic, meaning that, unlike lockdown, British business’s reliance on packaging isn’t about to come to an end.

As a result of the boom, many businesses suddenly needed to adapt their e-commerce model to meet a steep increase in demand for home deliveries and brand owners are increasingly developing their own online offerings. As such, the future will see designers work with customers to create packaging solutions that deliver on the brand promise and the unboxing experience, integrating the need for sustainable solutions that are meeting the returns expectations. We will also observe a need for rationalising the range of packs, whilst offering “right-size” and “multiple-size” packaging, using no more material than necessary and enabling effective transport. 

This, together with changing demographics, access to fast broadband, advances in artificial intelligence and improvements in delivery infrastructure, will contribute to continued fast growth in 2021 and beyond, which packaging users need to be equipped for. 

Sustainable solutions will be essential

It’s not just e-commerce that is changing, as we all know the tide is turning on plastics, with the demand for eco-packaging surging.

As e-commerce rises in popularity, expectations on packaging are increasing too. Sustainable packaging in particular is a topic which continues to remain front of mind for consumers, especially as packages continue to get delivered to their door day after day. 

Products being over-packaged or delivered in non-recyclable materials can lead to strong criticism, complaints, and active public debate. Plastics are perceived to be the least sustainable form of packaging with brands, retailers and food producers increasingly looking for more sustainable alternatives. We expect this trend to grow in 2021, and one example is the interest to replace plastic bags for apparel with paper-based solutions. Another is the growing online shopping of perishable groceries and meal kits, where we see opportunity for more sustainable and fully recyclable thermal insulation packs which eliminate problem plastic such as EPS foam. 

We are witnessing brands responding to this demand. From being niche just a few years ago, packaging made from recycled materials is now booming – with brands continually looking at how to innovate to ensure their packaging is more ecologically sustainable. Brands are also making well-targeted design tweaks and implementing simple changes to help design out waste and create products that are circular. This helps them to build brand capital, fulfil customer demand and stay on the right side of current and future regulations aimed at minimising waste and environmental damage.


The Covid-19 pandemic has heightened the importance of hygiene to consumers with 65% of Brits worrying how many people have touched the products they touch in-store.

With people increasingly prioritising hygiene, we fully expect hygienic packaging to be a lasting priority once the Covid-19 pandemic eases. As such, manufacturers and retailers will need to tread a fine line between sustainability and hygiene when it comes to product development and promotion. There is an exciting opportunity in the industry to strengthen its hygiene credentials by improving packaging design and material related innovations.

Indeed, we expect to see brands consider innovations like tamper-proof packaging to provide reassurance to customers that their items have been fully protected. Additionally, new opening mechanisms like peel-off surface covers can improve hygiene whilst people eat and drink – and these innovations will become common place as we exit the pandemic. We also believe there will be greater consideration as to how consumers touch packaging, with anti-microbial coatings on easily identifiable touch-safe zones providing consumers with additional safeguards, especially as the nation cautiously navigates a world post-pandemic.